UMATILLA COUNTY — Earlier this week, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon announced the retailer is discontinuing the sale of ammunition that can be used in assault weapons and discouraging its customers from openly carrying firearms in its stores moving forward.
Written in a memo addressed to the corporation’s associates, the announcement came exactly one month after 22 people were killed and 26 were injured in a racist shooting at its store in El Paso, Texas.
“It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable,” McMillon wrote in bold, continuing later in the memo to call for legislation from Congress requiring background checks on firearms sales.
With Oregon as an open carry state, the announcement has drawn criticism from local gun rights advocates and members of the Republican Party in Umatilla County while Walmart locations in Pendleton and Hermiston implement the new policy.
“The root of violence is mental health. State and local governments have not done enough to help those that are in mental health crisis,” the Umatilla County Republican Party Chair, Suni Danforth, wrote in a statement on Thursday. “Walmart’s actions do nothing to stop gun violence. They have penalized, and will lose, those customers who shoot competitively and for recreation in various shooting activities.”
Specifically, Walmart will no longer sell “short-barrel ammunition, such as the .223 caliber and the 5.56 caliber,” or handguns and their ammunition, in any of its stores.
Until Tuesday, Walmart only sold handguns at its Alaska locations.
For each of these items, McMillon stated in the memo that stores will sell through the inventory they are already committed to and sales will cease after. Moving forward, its inventory will be dedicated to its hunting and sport customers with primarily long barrel deer rifles, shotguns and the accompanying ammunition for both.
While Walmart will continue selling firearms and ammunition specifically geared toward those customers in Danforth’s statement, her comment supports other critics who say Walmart is going to lose their business altogether anyway.
“I think Walmart is making a big mistake,” said HollyJo Beers. “We’re just gonna go to only ma and pop stores for everything now.”
Beers is the county vice-lead of Oregon III%, which is a state militia movement focused on protecting the Second Amendment, and said she open and concealed carries frequently and has done so “many times” at Walmart locations before.
According to Delia Garcia, Walmart’s senior director of communications, if Beers or other customers were to enter the store openly carrying a firearm, management will address them respectfully and ask that they return it to their vehicle or conceal it.
“The goal is to take a non-confrontational approach and treat them with respect,” Garcia said, emphasizing the policy’s purpose is to create a safe environment for everyone.
In the memo, McMillon noted recent incidents at Walmart locations where customers have openly carried guns, which led to evacuations and calls to local enforcement after scaring other people.
“These incidents are concerning and we would like to avoid them,” McMillon wrote. “So we are respectfully requesting that customers no longer openly carry firearms into our stores or Sam’s Clubs in states where ‘open carry’ is permitted.”
While the policy doesn’t amount to an explicit ban, Garcia said in cases where deescalation and respectful conversations aren’t successful, local authorities may be called.
“It’s a judgement call,” she said on Thursday. “If somebody is creating concern for our customers and it’s perceived as a threat, the store may have to go ahead and contact police.”
To prepare its employees for these situations, Garcia said the corporation is conducting training with all associates and discussing the importance of respect and how to assess these scenarios.
Garcia added that Walmart is in the process of creating signage that will inform customers of this policy clearly, but that they aren’t likely to be ready to go for a couple weeks as they work through compliance with various states and jurisdictions.
Regardless of the past incidents, Beers doesn’t believe people should be scared of others openly carrying to begin with, noting that it removes the possibility of people like her being able to defend others in a shooting situation. She also said she’s happy to have a respectful conversation with somebody about why she feels that way.
“I don’t mind if someone’s uncomfortable,” she said. “I just don’t want to be regulated from my right.”
Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, said he didn’t have a comment on the gun control debate at large or the discussion around open carry. But he did say he sees Walmart’s new policy as well within their rights as a business.
“They’re a private business, and as a private business they will make decisions they feel is best for them and their customers,” he said.
According to the memo, Walmart will not change its policy on allowing concealed carry of firearms within its stores.
Mark Petersen, chair of the Umatilla County Democratic Party, declined to comment on the policy.
A potential winner from the decision are gun shops in Pendleton and Hermiston, which are expecting an increase in customers moving forward.
“As with any business, every person that competes takes some slice of the pie,” said Rick Hadden of Pendleton’s Garner’s Sporting Goods. “So I’d expect some more but to what degree I couldn’t say.”
After removing the short-barrel ammunition from its stores, McMillon wrote in the memo that the retailer expects its share of the ammunition market to drop from 20% to between 6% to 9%.
Randy Smith, who is the owner of Hermiston’s Smitty’s Ace Outpost, said he’s already seen an uptick in buyers of his ammunition after Walmart and other chain retailers opted to raise the age requirement from 18 to 21 last year.
Smith said his store won’t change its policies and will continue to follow federal law while “not shying away” from selling to anybody eligible under those regulations.